The five premier motor shows of 2010 — Detroit, Geneva, Beijing, Paris and LA — carried the same optimistic theme this year: unmistakable signs of a hard-earned revival in the car industry’s fortunes, based on manufacturers' realisation that they have to make better cars quicker, and find ideal customers for them in a fast-changing market.
Their achievement is that the free-fall of 2008 is well and truly arrested, and that a sales double-dip predicted by some for the past six months hasn’t really happened.
In Britain, Goodwood came up with the newest, freshest approach to motor shows in several deades: the inaugural Moving Motor Show, which invited manufacturers to the famous South Coast estate in bulk, and invited them to demonstrate their newest products on a five-mile private route. Despite teething troubles, it was pronounced a great success – to the extent that some at Goodwood are already talking of adding another day to the event.
The Detroit show in January started in tentative style, with the launch of several ultra-practical “squashed SUV” crossover products, but it was lightened by early glimpses of Ford’s new Focus models and gathering evidence that Ford (the only one of America’s Big Three that hadn’t needed huge government loans) was heading not only for profits again, but the sustainable kind.
By the time we reached the Geneva show, in March, impressive new models were upon us. The Focus had its European debut, Alfa Romeo showed Giulietta, its best car for many years, and Porsche trumped everyone with the 918 Spyder, a supercar (already slated for production) that showed how range-extended electric cars could be the enthusiast’s cars of tomorrow.
The Beijing show, in May, still had the now-traditional oddballs, but these were backed with cars like the MG Zero concept (plainly European in style) and the Roewe E1 electric city car concept, the equal in concept and look of any old-world car maker. The Beijing authorities later issued some silly stuff about being “better than Geneva”, which strikes me as a bit like saying an apple is better than a tomato.
Then came Goodwood and its Moving Motor Show in June, more professionally realised and better supported than most people, possibly even the organisers, expected. The product debuts were mainly of UK interest only (Volvo S60, MG6, Chevy Camaro) but so inviting were the surroundings and so good was the feedback that it’s not difficult to imagine the MMS turning into something much bigger.
Lotus and its five extraordinary new sports models were the stand-out at the Paris show in October, ably supported by Lamborghini’s amazingly lightweight Sesto Elemento, by the appearance of a production-standard Fisker Karma (a luxury saloon hybrid) and Jaguar’s incredible C-X75 concept, another car with electric drive, but this time with its power derived from generators attached to two tiny gas turbine engines.
At Los Angeles in November the Americans were still being careful of launching anything reeking of conspicuous consumption excess (you looked in vain for a new model with a big-cube V8) but there was a definite feeling that confidence was continuing to return, and that horrible, pervading it’s-all-our-fault feeling was completely gone, highlighted with the launch of the GM-derived Saab 9-4X.
And while 2011 won’t be all downhill, indications are it will be better still.